By Chad Jennings
Aside from adding a few minor league starters, the Yankees have yet to seriously address their glaring rotation concerns. They’ve acknowledged them, just haven’t added a proven big league starter to provide depth and alternatives. If anything, the Yankees lost their best piece of rotation depth when they traded away Adam Warren.
Is there still time to add some depth?
Rotation pieces on the trade market have been tough to come by — if prices weren’t so high, the Yankees might have already traded Brett Gardner for a starter — but the free agent market still has some recognizable names available. Obviously the top free agent starters are off the market at prices that suggest the Yankees were never really in the bidding to begin with, but there might still be a bit of valuable depth.
The crew at MLB Trade Rumors recently named the best free agent starting pitchers still available and broke them into five categories. Which of these would be a good fit for the Yankees heading into spring training? Here’s the way MLB Trade Rumors broke them down:
Clearly the cream of the current crop, Gallardo turns 30 in February and he’s coming off a 3.42 ERA across 30 starts with the Rangers. Wouldn’t be out of the question to think he could get something close to the $70 million the Royals gave Ian Kennedy. He’s had an ERA higher than 3.66 only once in the past five years. Pretty steady rotation piece, but he’s presumably priced out of the Yankees’ comfort zone.
Doug Fister, Mat Latos, Kyle Lohse, Alfredo Simon
Although Latos just turned 28 in December and could have significant upside if he can return to his 2013-24 level of production, he was so unreliable last season that it’s hard to point to him as a clear upgrade over what the Yankees already have. At the right price, sure, but Latos comes with his own questions. From this group, the name that stands out to me is Fister, mostly because the Yankees very specifically need depth. They need someone who can step into the rotation if there’s an injury, but could otherwise fall into the bullpen. Fister pitched in relief last season, and as a bounceback candidate, he might be available on a short-term deal. To me, he makes some sense, but Jack Curry says the Yankees aren’t interested in signing Fister to a two-year deal, and they believe that’s what it will take to sign him.
Bronson Arroyo, Chad Billingsley, Josh Johnson, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, Cory Luebke, Justin Masterson, Mike Minor
On a minor league deal or a very, very cheap big league deal, it would be fun to roll the dice on Lee or Lincecum, but those are real gambles. Hard for any team to bank on them heading into next season. I suppose that’s the point of this entire group: they’re all high-risk guys who don’t bring much confidence but might bring some upside if the dominoes fall just right. If someone from this group sees an opportunity with the Yankees and wants to come to camp on a non-roster deal, have at it. Ultimately, though, these guys are even less dependable than the pitchers already in place for the Yankees.
Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Wandy Rodriguez, Eric Stults, Randy Wolf, Jerome Williams
Yikes. Not the most encouraging group. Maybe someone here would take a minor league deal to play a veteran role in the Triple-A bullpen, but I’m not sure any of these would be a better option than Bryan Mitchell, Luis Cessa or Brady Lail. These are really just emergency innings eaters at this point, and signing them would mean hoping for a Rich Hill-type miracle. Some of these guys have had nice big league careers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good big league options at this point.
Joe Blanton, Mark Buehrle
Expectation is that Buehrle will retire, but he’s actually coming off a 3.81 ERA in Toronto, and if the Yankees could get that out of their seventh starter, I’m sure they’d take it. But are they really going to sign a guy who’s been routinely clobbered in Yankee Stadium? I’ve always like Buehrle for some reason, and he’s really had a nice career, but he might not be the answer. Blanton, on the other hand, is interesting. He has rotation experience, so he could be an emergency fill-in, but he could also move easily into the bullpen where he was actually terrific last season. Blanton had a 1.05 WHIP and more than a strikeout per inning out of the bullpen last season. Could be a nice two-inning reliever who could, in an emergency, be stretched out as an experienced starter. UPDATE: Scratch that. Blanton signed with the Dodgers.